Congressmen crossed party lines yesterday to join the swelling protest against government’s approval of a 50 to 87 percent fare hike on the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Metro Rail Transit (MRT) systems starting January 4.
Reps. Sherwin Gatchalian (NPC, Valenzuela City) and Terry Ridon (Kabataan Partylist) were the latest to join the growing number of politicians who have assailed the planned fare increase.
Gatchalian, a member of the Malacanang-allied majority bloc, warned that whatever gains the public has been experiencing from a series of cuts in oil prices, the MRT and LRT fare hike will spoil.
Effective January 4, MRT-3 fare rates from North Avenue to Taft Avenue and vice versa in MRT-3 will increase to P28 from P15. Fares from Baclaran to Roosevelt and vice versa (LRT-1) will increase to P30 from P20 and LRT-2 fares from Recto to Santolan and vice versa will increase to P25 from P15.
The announcement came at a time when the MRT-3 and LRT Lines 1 and 2 were accorded substantial government assistance in the soon-to-be signed General Appropriations Act, which includes the amounts of P4.65 billion in subsidy, P7.94 billion for MRT rehabilitation and P4.67 in unpaid MRT taxes.
REDUCE P2-B SUBSIDY
The newly approved bicameral version of the Supplemental Budget, which will be immediately carried out in 2015, has the following items: P1.21 billion for MRT rehabilitation and capacity extension and P728 million rehabilitation fund for LRT 1 and 2.
“Instead of raising MRT and LRT fares, the government should first improve the services of the mass transport system amid frequent glitches and a serious accident last August where 40 passengers were injured after a wayward MRT train rammed through metal railings and a lamp post at Taft Avenue Station,” said Gatchalian, a senior member of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition (NPC) .
The Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has justified the increase in mass transit fares as a move to reduce the P12 billion which the government spends to subsidies the MRT and LRT operations.
The DOTC said the hike will cut the subsidy by P2-B, an amount equivalent to the construction cost of 8,240 classrooms, or 11,440 hectares of irrigated farmlands.
Gatchalian, a former mayor and currently vice chairman of the House Committee on Metro Manila Development lamented that “govt did not even wait for the holiday season to pass before announcing the planned increase for MRT and LRT fares. This will definitely neutralize the positive effects of the recent jeepney fare rollback as well as the impending rollback in taxi and bus fares.” .
At the Senate, Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate public services sub-committee demanded that DOTC defer the ‘’unnecessary and untimely’’ fare increase describing it as an “added insult and an injustice to the suffering riding public.”
“How could they be so insensitive to the millions of commuters and MRT and LRT riders?’’ Poe lamented, stressing that DOTC has not met public expectations even for the basic facilities of the train system like elevators, escalators and comfort rooms.
To feel the daily burden of MRT commuters, Poe joined the long queue of passengers, bought her ticket and rode the MRT from its North Avenue station to Taft. .
“We must remember that a mass transport system such as the MRT is an essential government service,” Poe stressed.
“The sorry state of the MRT brought about to a large extent by government mismanagement and ineptness cannot justify an increase. The government is obligated to maintain the subsidy until the system’s services and safety are upgraded,” the senator added.
“While the MRT and LRT is in Metro Manila, the riders of these trains are mostly wage earners whose contribution to the national economy is far reaching and impacts productivity,” Poe stressed.
Labor and commuter groups slammed the fare hike and urged government to increase the subsidy since it benefits tax-paying workers, who contribute to the country’s coffers.
“To us, subsidizing at least 500 million rides of workers a year is more productive than subsidizing the comfortable travel of 500 VIPs in government,” Nagkaisa member Wilson Fortaleza said.
Nagkaisa is a coalition of at least 49 labor federations in the country.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
But Malacañang stood firm on the rail fare hike.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma said the government has been subsidizing the MRT for years and it is just about time to correct the fare system.
He, however, said the Palace will leave it to Congress to decide on the matter. (With a report from Samuel P.Medenilla) Manila Bulletin